Here is the challenge. Go to the produce department in your favorite grocery store on a busy day and simply observe. Watch the shoppers and employees.
Selecting fruits and vegetables is a hands on process. This means the people touch, feel, thumb and even sniff items. It is true that as a cantaloupe ripens the smell at the stem end becomes stronger. How many hands have touched this produce before it gets to you? How many times has it been dropped on the floor and picked up again?
With this information in mind, the first thing that should be done when you get home with the produce is to take the items out of the bag. The bag acts like a giant petri dish. It is moist, warm and filled with bacteria and germs. The quicker the produce is removed from that situation the better. If there are any overripe items with fruit fly eggs, they may actually be brought right into the kitchen.
It is clear that popping something in your mouth straight from the plastic bag is ill advised. It has been through too many hands and possibly hit the floor a couple times. It is not clean. But what are you supposed to do with fresh produce once it is out of the bag? It depends on what it is.
Potatoes and onions are best kept in a cool dry place, but they should not be kept close together. It best if these are kept in paper bags with open tops. Other items that should be kept in a cool dry place are acorn squash, pumpkins, spaghetti squash, and sweet potatoes.
Items that should ripen on the counter and then be moved to the refrigerator are peaches, avocados, plum, pears and nectarines. Nectarines should be allowed to sit on the counter after refrigeration to soften a bit before eating.
There are many items that have better flavor if they are stored on the counter top rather than the fridge. It is important to keep items that produce ethylene away from other fruits and vegetables. So on the counter top the apples, bananas and tomatoes produce ethylene gases, but taste better if left on the counter top. Other items that should be on the counter top are cucumbers, pineapples, eggplant, grapefruit, peppers, lemons, limes, garlic, pomegranates and watermelon.
It is tempting to just toss the other items in the refrigerator in the plastic from the store. Do not do this. You can keep those bags, turn them inside out, rinse and dry them for next time, but it is important to get the produce out, check it and move it to a clean bag. These does not produce more plastic use, reuse the bags.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of any eating plan. Keep them fresh and healthy to serve for your friends and family.